Farmers enjoy fivefold rise in food sales as coronavirus drives more people to avoid supermarkets
After extended periods of bushfires and drought, coronavirus was looking like yet another blow to Australia's farmers.
But producers who sell directly to the public are seeing an unprecedented spike in demand as customers increasingly look for ways to avoid busy supermarket aisles amid tight social distancing restrictions.
For beef producers Rod and Debbie Richardson, COVID-19 meant they lost sales to restaurants and could no longer run their on-farm tourism venture — but they are staying afloat thanks to a huge spike in retail customers.
"We've seen an 85 to 100 per cent increase in orders this month alone," Mrs Richardson said.
"Our beef is our lifeline at the moment.
"Had we not had those additional orders, we would not have covered our costs and about 200 kilos of beef would have had to be put in the freezer."
The couple have operated Running Creek Beef, a small operation near the Queensland/New South Wales border, for several years.
Mrs Richardson said demand for deliveries and farm gate pick up had never been higher.
"I do feel there is some additional quantity buying going on, people have bought a bit more and we've had a lot of new customers too," she said.
"There's also those questions to us … 'Are you are you're able to keep delivering?' People are looking for that reassurance.
"I think the virus has boosted the 'support the bush, buy local' sentiment already growing in Australia following recent bushfires and drought."
Mrs Richardson said they were partnering with other producers on southern Queensland's Scenic Rim to combine deliveries of honey, milk and other locally grown items with their beef orders.
"We figure we've got a truck and we're making the trip, so why not try to help people?"
Happy to avoid supermarkets
Ann Hunziker from Rathdowney, a rural town just north of the Queensland border, regularly orders meat from nearby producers Running Creek Beef, but increased her ordering amid rising concerns about coronavirus and crowded supermarkets.
"We've only gone to the shops once since [the pandemic reached Australia]," Mrs Hunziker said.
"I have COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] so I'm suspectable to getting pneumonia and chest inflections.
"I believe if I was to get coronavirus it wouldn't be a nice ending, so I fear for it."
Ms Hunziker said she was also worried about the health of her elderly mother, who also lives on their property.
"I want to avoid her getting the virus," she said.
Business models shifting
Further north in sugar cane country, producers and growers are also having to adapt.
Bundaberg farmer and produce store owner Anthony Rehbein has changed his business model since coronavirus guidelines were implemented in Australia.
To minimise social contact, he is offering a delivery service to take fresh produce straight to customers' doorsteps.
"Most people came through the front door and bought their fresh fruit and vegetables and now we're doing a box service," Mr Rehbein said.
"We've been doing approximately anywhere between 40 to 50 boxes in a day."
A few minutes up the road, lettuce grower Andrew Dowling's produce store The Lettuce Patch has transitioned into a drive-through service to meet increasing demand while adhering to social distancing practices.
"There is a lot of anxiety within the community and they're not sure how long this [pandemic] is going to go on for," he said.
With the closure of restaurants and cafes, Mr Dowling said the service was proving vital for him as well as those who supply additional produce to his shop.
Anna Hartley and Megan Hughes. (April 5, 2022). Farmers enjoy fivefold rise in food sales as coronavirus drives more people to avoid supermarkets. ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-05/farmers-rising-food-sales-gate-coronavirus/12119368